April 21, 2024

Photo Essay: Warner Brothers Adds the TCM Classics Film Tour to Its Studio Backlot Experience

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the media preview of the TCM Classic Films Tour, a brand-new experience offered by Warner Brothers Studio Tours focusing on the movie studio and backlot's heritage of legacy films (as opposed to current productions). 

The only other time I'd taken the WB studio tour in 2012, our tour guide had customized our experience (as they all do) to focus more on the classics anyway—showing us where our favorites like Cool Hand Luke and Bonnie & Clyde had been filmed.

But for the debut, TCM hosts Ben Mankiewicz and Dave Karger joined Western movie great Burton Gilliam, most recognizable to me as Lyle from Blazing Saddles.

It was appropriate, as the Mel Brooks cowboy spoof was a Warner Brothers Pictures production...

...and filmed a key scene at the studio lot's entrance, which the cast ensemble can be seen running out of in a moment that breaks the fourth wall. 
During its COVID-19 closure, Warner reimagined its regular studio tour—relocating and expanding its entrance experience (with a new lobby and studio store) and adding a few other attractions, which debuted in 2021. 
So even though I'd already been on the lot's Midwest Street (a.k.a. Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls)...

...and seen the police station from Rebel Without a Cause...

...there was plenty more to see, like the coffee shop where Emma Stone's character in La La Land worked...

...and the area of the Residential Street (formerly known as King's Row) where Mary's first blind school from Little House on the Prairie once stood.
There's also one of the tallest soundstages in the world, Stage 16, built in 1934/5 and still used for its water tank (for films like The Perfect Storm and The Goonies, which shot One-Eyed Willy’s pirate ship there)...
...and the Paint Department (in Building 44) and lumber yard/mill.

The Prop House is immediately recognizable from the outside...

...thanks to its collection of street signs...

...and parking meters (though none look old enough to have had their heads lopped off by Paul Newman). 

As with costumes, movie studios try to use and reuse their props and set decorations over and over again as much as possible—though some, like the desk set from The Big Sleep, have become historical artifacts with their own tourism draw.
Same goes for the wall Rosalind Russell stood in front of as Auntie Mame (when her apartment took on a decidedly East Indian motif).

But these museum-type displays (there's one for The Maltese Falcon, too) are the exception at the Prop Department, everything else shelved and hung and catalogued for future use. 

Prop masters still browse this collection and will tag an item if they want to claim dibs on it... you'll see some complete "rooms" assembled (like a version of the Oval Office), where set decorators might just choose to take the whole thing rather than trying to build one of their own piece-by-piece.

Every inch of ceiling is illuminated by lighting fixtures (some also perched on shelves, like the "leg lamp" from A Christmas Story); and around every corner, there's a new face to surprise and delight visitors with a feeling of both vague familiarity and unsettling anachronism. 

Next to the former costume building (now home to Warner Cafe and offices)...

...there's the Rose Garden where Jack Warner's tennis court once stood. 

Those who take the full tour will also get to visit the Eastwood Scoring Stage (named after benefactor Clint Eastwood) and the animation department—but everybody winds up at the same place in the end, Stage 48. 
In addition to the Friends experience (expanded back in 2021 as well), it offers a look at even more historic costumes, like those from Casablanca...

...and My Fair Lady

On my last Warner Brothers studio tour, I got to visit the soundstage of the TV sitcom Big Bang Theory, which was still airing at the time. Its 12th and final season aired in 2019—but its props, costumes, and some set pieces have been preserved as part of a walk-through experience at the end of the studio tour.

One of the benefits to living in Los Angeles is having this kind of access behind the scenes—whether it's for award-winning dramas, westerns, horror, or comedy. It's no wonder taking a studio tour is something that tourists love to do. 

Locals who don't take advantage of it are really missing out. 

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1 comment:

  1. In 1949 when my dad was working as a screen writer, at that time writing his original screenplay for Colt .45, he took me on a tour of the studio. It looked a lot different then than now. That was before they had a big fire that destroyed a significant portion of the back lot. When we had lunch in the commissary, dad pointed out several male and female actors. He didn't have to tell me who was sitting with three other people at the table for four next to our table for four. It was Gary Cooper wearing a white tee shirt and Levi jeans.